Is the perfect parent a mythological creature?
In the wake of her new book release, No Sweat Parenting, we invited author Renée Mill to share with us her thoughts on pressures that today's parents are experiencing and whether or not the load can be lightened.
Modern parents are driving themselves crazy trying to be perfect. Yes, I said perfect. Parents are struggling to live up to demands that are exhausting and unsustainable. Over the years, parents have told me things like:
"I feel bad when I go for a run because I worry I should be at my child's side 24/7".
"My 4 year old may get upset that I take his baby sister to the park when he is in pre-school, so I always try and do everything fairly and together as a group".
"As long as my child needs the comfort of my bed, she will be allowed to sleep with us".
"I miss going to the bathroom alone but I feel guilty making my child wait outside the door".
"When I am tired I feel really sorry for my toddler who is losing out on having an energetic dad".
"Cake icing is not my forte but I am taking lessons as I want my daughter to have home baked, exciting birthday cakes".
By listening carefully to what these parents are saying, you will pick up their need to be totally available, always fair, all giving, selfless, an all-rounder who should be all things at all times. This is simply not realistic and yet so many parents fall into this modern day trap.
As a parent, a counsellor and fellow human being please believe me when I tell you that it is a myth that any one person can be totally available or totally giving to another. I call it the "perfection myth". A parent is still a person who has his/her own needs and agendas and there are times when they have to come first. For example, if a mother is ill, somebody else has to step in. If a father has to work late, he may not be around at bed time. Going to the bathroom and getting a good night's sleep are normal requirements in life. Other children, bereavements, work, studies are all part of a parent's life tapestry and therefore, no matter how hard you try, life events, personal needs and other responsibilities will interfere with perfection.
Aligned with the perfection myth is the belief that if you are not perfect, your child will suffer. Again, not true. Your child will not only cope with you being limited at times, but will even benefit. This is because by being fallible you are showing your child reality rather than presenting a false illusion. When you apologise to your children about doing something like having a shower, you are creating the impression that they have been wronged. When you spend unnecessarily to please you are giving the message that they should have whatever their hearts desire. When you put your children first, to your own detriment, you are training them to be selfish and ego centric.
It will help you and your family enormously if you get rid of the perfection myth, and the sympathy, and replace it with a realistic lifestyle. In essence this means that all you can do is try and be available as much as you possibly can in your particular circumstances at any given time. Be a loving and caring parent of course, but do not forget to take care of your physical, mental, social, spiritual and intellectual needs too. Make decisions that are sustainable in the long term rather than emotional decisions that arise out of misplaced guilt or the need to be perfect.
Morris works at as a janitor for a factory and earns an average income. He believes he owes it to his daughter to send her to a private school which costs almost as much as he earns. As a result, he has taken a second job in the evenings and has pushed his wife to work every day as well. His daughter, who is 8 years old, would happily go to any school her parents chose. Instead, she hardly sees them now as they work so hard and she feels pretty sad. Her mother is resentful and tired and her father is exhausted and short tempered. No one has won in this scenario. Had Morris accepted that he is "limited" financially in that he is average and not rich, he would have made sensible, realistic choices that would have allowed for a comfortable lifestyle. I believe his family would have been much happier overall and could be building a future with robust finances. Morris's choices are having a negative impact in the short and long term.
No Sweat Parenting was written for parents who are tired. Tired of living up to unrealistic expectations; tired of second-guessing their own authority; tired of making excuses as to why they can't play games; tired of pretending that their responsibilities and wants don't exist; and tired of buying stuff.
Parenting has become exhausting. Yet, it need not be.
In her book, Renée challenges the following 6 beliefs:
- I must be the perfect parent.
- If I am firm my child will have low self-esteem.
- Quality time means playing with my child.
- Parenting and adult life have to be conducted separately.
- Material benefits bring happiness.
- I must do everything for my child so that he will feel good about himself and feel safe in the world.
In sum, your children are lucky that you prioritise their well being and care for them the way you do. However, in order for you to stay sane and energised, you need to take care of your own health and be realistic about your own capabilities. When you do this, not only do you feel more like a human being with extra energy but your children will have the opportunity to become thoughtful individuals who are able to delay gratification. These are huge strengths in life. By applying what I have suggested, both you and your children will benefit in the short and long term.
Go ahead, try it for yourself!